As a member of the District’s Historic Preservation Review Board, I feel I must address some of the misunderstandings regarding my vote against the Chandler-Wingate case and regarding the issues involved. [Solar power project eclipsed in D.C., Real Estate, June 23].

Solar technology need not be an advertisement of a homeowner’s commitment to green technologies. We must consider holistically other technologies and issues when upgrading historic properties within the fabric of the city. 

In this historic home, the most visible roof slope is on the western side, even though the southern slope faces the street.  The homeowners proposed putting some of the panels on part of the original historic west roof.  The western roof, especially since the panels would be shaded by a tree, offers less solar gain and thereby less energy production. The homeowners relied only on data from the installers as their experts with no engineering report or energy model. 

 Additionally, changing the light colored asphalt shingles to darker shingles was appropriate aesthetically so the black solar panels would blend in, but the net result is more energy use in the production of those new shingles and an increase to the landfill of the non-biodegradable material.

What weighed most for me overall though were the Secretary of the Interior’s guidelines for historic preservation calling for preserving the character and fabric of historic homes and for an elegant compatibility for additions while making sure additions are clearly differentiated.  Changing old windows for energy efficient windows need not change the character of a historic property. Adding very modern and high-tech technology — large solar panels of this particular type — would be very visibly different from the historic fabric.

For a greater civic purpose, we could all hope that future subsidies awarded for green technologies would highlight not just one technology, but a balance of integrated technologies, depending on which was more relevant — whether they be passive strategies, changing the windows to more energy efficient windows, using appropriate and durable materials with less embodied energy and toxicity, or incorporating more high-tech solutions like geo-thermal or solar panels.  

After this case, I have discussed with the DC Department of the Environment developing a program of subsidies that has a more holistic approach to incorporating materials and technologies in historic properties.

While we must certainly incorporate newer technologies in historic buildings, the broader question now arises that we must all consider.  While I support innovative and high-tech technologies, we do not live in the frontier.  As a community, has the time not come that we should look holistically at and expend our energy fighting for comprehensive solutions for green energy production and consumption as a civic society not as an individual? 

Perhaps investing in green energy production on a broader scale such as infrastructure for wind turbines or solar farms in the greater civic arena would produce much more green energy, use much less embodied energy, or use a lower amount of toxic materials in total?  We are only going to solve our energy crisis with large infrastructure projects, and indeed those projects in the past were intrinsic to our bold and innovative spirit as Americans. 

Rauzia Ruhana Ally is a member of the District’s Historic Preservation Review Board. She also was the director of the Solar Decathlon program in Washington, Team Capitol DC. The views expressed here are her own.